Neighbors Ohio and Michigan are moving further apart in politics – differences in ballot access may explain why
Published in Political News
It may seem that the midterm elections are firmly behind us.
Pollsters are already measuring likely outcomes in 2024 presidential matchups. And announced candidates and possible contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are taking trips to Iowa, the party’s first nominating state.
But 2022 election results from two key states tell us a lot about how voting laws and issues on the ballot influence the way people vote.
At first glance, it’s not easy to understand why Michigan, a left-leaning swing state, and Ohio, a Republican stronghold and former swing state, had such different electoral outcomes in the midterms. Their similar demographic makeups and past similar voting patterns – such as electing Republicans statewide over several election cycles – suggest they would tend to have similar results at the ballot box.
As scholars of electoral politics and state policy in Ohio, we explored recent elections in both states and found a divergence after 2016, with Michigan voting more blue and Ohio voting more red. Our analysis suggests differences in voter registration laws and ballot initiatives may explain why these two states have taken different electoral paths. This preliminary research has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Between 2000 and 2012, the states had similar voting results more than half the time. But they did diverge slightly. During the period, Michigan voters picked the Democratic presidential candidate in each of the four contests. Meanwhile, in Ohio, voters went twice each for Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic President Barack Obama. At the gubernatorial level, for three elections during this period – 2002, 2006 and 2010 – Michigan elected one Republican and elected and reelected one Democrat, while Ohio elected two Republicans and one Democrat.
In the 2016 presidential election, voters in both Michigan and Ohio chose Republican candidate Donald Trump. That year, there was no U.S. Senate election in Michigan, but Ohio voters returned Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman for another term. And voters in both states sent more Republicans than Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives and both houses of their state legislatures.
While the two states had been slowly moving apart for a couple of decades, they converged in the 2016 presidential election for Trump.
Since 2016, however, voters in the two states have followed drastically different political paths. In 2018, 2020 and 2022, Michigan voters elected Democratic candidates for governor, U.S. Senate and president as well as a majority in both houses of the state legislature. And they voted for ballot initiatives that legalized marijuana, reformed redistricting and legalized same-day voter registration, which included straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting. They also voted to modify the state constitution to protect abortion and contraception rights – all policies typically supported by Democratic candidates.
During the same three election cycles in Ohio, residents cast their ballots for Republican candidates and policy initiatives favored by Republicans. Voters rejected drug-related criminal justice reform, approved a referendum that could make bail more punitive and affirmed that only U.S. citizens could vote in Ohio elections. Republicans actually dominated electoral politics in both federal and state races, with one exception: in 2018, voters sent Democrat Sherrod Brown back to the U.S. Senate.